A/N: I would like to thank everyone for their support of this story! The whole incident with JK Rowling/Emma Watson actually provided me with the answer I had been searching for when I set out to write this story. Is there a way to come back from the worst kind of betrayal? The answer is yes- with time and space. On that note, please enjoy the very last chapter.
Chapter Nine: Expected
"Are you trying to insinuate that I'm not clever enough to check myself for concussion?"
Ron knew that tone of voice very well. Hermione's way with words had a two-pronged effect. In a single breath she could either build you up or tear you down. She hadn't torn him down in so long.
"Hermione, nobody can check themselves for concussion."
Ron stood at the door longer than was necessary. He didn't want to announce himself. He was still thinking of how many ways he could beat the everlasting crap out of his former best mate.
"You had a serious head wound. You should be staying another night."
"The Healers said I'm fine! Are you a complete imbecile, Harry? Would you like me to owl Flourish and Blotts and have them deliver a dictionary to you? Stop being absurd, I had a knock on the head, they patched me up and I'm going home!"
"Merlin's beard, Harry! Why don't you just...fuck off!"
There was silence. Ron couldn't deny that he was impressed, even for a moment. Now was as good a time as ever. In true cliché style, he cleared his throat, introducing himself into the most awkward and fucked up situation ever.
Two pairs of eyes rested on him. Hermione's lit up. Harry's tore away. "You heard the lady. I believe Hermione Granger just told you to sod off."
"Fuck off," Hermione added. "I told him to fuck off."
Despite himself, a smirk appeared on his lips. Harry looked between them. "Ron, I-"
"I don't particularly want to hear whatever bullshit you're selling. I appreciate you finding her and bringing her in but right now, you need to leave."
Hermione raised her hands in triumph and after a lengthy look of appreciation at Ron, returned to packing her bag by hand.
"Fine," he resigned. "I'm glad you're alright."
Ron glared at him as Hermione continued to look down at her bag, furiously shoving in clothes that had probably been packed away in the small closet in the room. After Harry left, the room seemed to close in on them.
"I'm really fine," Hermione insisted, breaking the painful silence. "I don't need to stay here overnight. I hit my head is all, I tripped you see."
Ron wasn't sure what to say. He kind of felt like hugging her, shagging her and screaming at her all at once. He really hoped that Harry had told everyone to go home- the last thing he needed was an audience listening in to him and Hermione.
Whichever way it went. He wasn't so sure yet.
He thought about hugging her. Hugging would be safe, right? He did miss her, after all. And he was grateful to Merlin that her injury wasn't more serious than he initially thought. He felt like a bit of a plum really, racing all the way back from Romania, just to see her standing there.
Ron took a deep breath and cleared the distance between him and Hermione in a few steps. A small noise came out of her mouth and then, she was in his arms. His anger has softened slightly, as if it had sunk into a layer beneath his skin. It was equally wonderful and terrifying hugging Hermione.
One thing was certain, though. She still felt like home. It would have been easy to just bury his head in her hair, as wild as ever, and forget that it the whole thing had ever happened but that would be as cowardly as running from them all those years ago.
He loved her and, if he was being honest, was probably half way to forgiving her anyway, especially after those tortuous few moments when he thought something serious had happened to her.
As much as he bloody wished it away, a difficult conversation was on the horizon. He felt guilty about thinking about it right when her small frame was pressed into him. His hands had circled around her back and Hermione seemed to melt into him.
"I missed you."
"I missed you too," he answered honestly. "You scared me shitless."
He nearly expected her to berate him for the language but she just pulled out of his hug and wiped the tears from her face with her thumb. "I didn't mean to," she assured him. "I didn't want this for you- to have to race back for no good reason. Especially before you were ready. I promised I'd give you space and I feel positively awful for this."
"I appreciate that, Hermione. But you're barking if you think I'd have stayed in Romania," he said, a little more forcefully than he had intended. "I didn't leave you," he added quietly, unsure of where to look around the room.
She squeezed his hand. "I know."
So where were they going from here? "I don't think I want to do this-" he motioned between them, "here. If you're sure you're up for it, let's go home."
Home sure as hell wasn't Romania. Home used to be Hermione.
He was about to find out if it still was.
It had taken a half hour to officially sign Hermione out of St. Mungo's. One of his brothers had told the rest to clear out so they didn't have a committee waiting for them when they left.
Hermione had surprisingly behaved herself while the Healer gave Ron very strict instructions for her care for the next 24 hours. She had lasted a full three seconds after the Healer left before rolling her eyes and muttering an "honestly!" under her breath. Ron fought the urge to remind her that she was the one who had landed herself in there in the first place, which was a considerable measure of his restraint.
He wondered whether this was going to be their world from now on- unable to leave each other because bloody hell, they were still in love- but unwilling to break the fragile peace that existed between them.
Once they were cleared to leave, the Floor deposited them straight into their flat. There was an eerie quality about it now and Ron looked around the room as if he was walking into a crime scene.
He had confronted her in this room. Her teacup had fallen. Hermione fucked Harry and lied about it and while he was only fucking angry and not fucking livid anymore, it all came back to that, didn't it?
"I'm sorry it's a mess."
Ron wasn't sure on the specific mess she was referring to. "S'alright," he managed to get out as he surveyed the damage. The pensieve was in the living room right next to their sofa. He could see the spill on the floor and he cringed as he spotted blood on the rim.
"The brightest witch of our age taken down by a rogue pensieve," Ron tried to joke as he sat down on the sofa. "Better not let Skeeter get the exclusive."
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "That vile excuse for a woman can rot in hell for all I care," she snapped and joined Ron. "The right cow was sniffing around the flat earlier."
Ron recalled the way she had practically stalked him days ago. He hadn't slept in what felt like bloody ages but the adrenaline was pumping. He still wasn't sure what he wanted, so he was bloody hoping Hermione wasn't going to ask.
They sat in silence for a few minutes. There was loads to say but neither of them seemed to want to even start. Dread pooled in his stomach.
"I can't do this," she interrupted, a hint of hysteria touching her voice. "If you're going to say that this is over. I tried to give you space and-"
"I know you did," Ron replied. "But to be honest, Hermione, I've got no bloody clue if I'm going to say this is over or not!"
Hermione reacted as if she'd been physically hit. He groaned. "I don't know how I bloody feel," he continued, knowing he could possibly either lose his nerve or start yelling at the flick of a quill. "Romania helped, but I was just putting my problems- our problems- on hold. Fact is that not only did you shag Harry, you lied to me about it. For years!"
Her voice was small. "I know. And there is nothing I can ever do to take that away, except continue to feel horrible!"
"Yeah well, imagine I feel!" Ron snapped, standing. Everything was coming back to him. "I fucking left you in those woods! Pushed you right into his bed!"
Hermione stood quietly, unsure of whether Ron was saying things to hurt her or to take the blame on himself. "You should have told me," he said loudly. "But you were a coward. And instead of telling me about it and letting me fucking deal with it back then, you just lied to my face. The fucking pair of you!"
"I wanted to tell you, Harry-"
He pointed at you. "You can't blame this all on Harry. And on that matter, if I never have to hear the name HARRY POTTER again I'll be bloody content!"
She sighed audibly. "Fine. I let Harry convince me that this was a good idea. For the record, which I knew it wasn't. We had just fought the battle and I was tired and scared and..." She gestured to the pensieve. "Do you know why I slipped and fell, Ron? I've been collecting memories. Every memory I have, every moment, every feeling has been bottled. I am doing what I should have done from the start."
She summoned a pile of vials that nestled into her outstretched hands. Ron felt sick just looking at them. "Why the hell would I want those?" he raged. "If what I think is in there, why in my right mind would I ever, ever want to see that?"
She shook her head. "You don't. But that wasn't the point, Ron." She placed him in his hands and he fought the urge to smash them against the wall. "I don't care if you watch them. In fact, the whole point of not telling you was so you never would even have to know about it. What I did-" She paused. "It makes me sick.
He looked down at them.
"Not just... but everything. After I swore not to tell you, I made him take them from me. But Harry isn't as clever as he pretends to be. He couldn't even do that properly."
Hermione was crying now. "I know I forgave you. You came back. But all those weeks, Ron. And we thought we were going to die. You were gone. We were getting nowhere with the Horcruxes and we were absolutely miserable. I would cry myself to sleep most nights, thinking about you. And so it happened. And it was awful and horrid and I cried and cried, thinking about you.
"And then you came back and we fought a war, Ron. I never thought we would ever survive, but we did. And e thought that if you knew, you'd go and we would never see you again."
Ron took a step back away from Hermione. Everything he had done had come slamming back into him like a ton of bricks. Every bad feeling, every regret from that one moment.
"You didn't trust me," he whispered as she attempted to rub the tears from her eyes. "You thought that after I'd- we'd...- I'd up and leave you."
"It was the stupidest thing I've ever done," she answered honestly. "You're the love of my life and the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. And for the rest of my life, I'll only ever try to make it up to you."
He had no words, only the feeling of dead weight floating around his stomach. Nothing made sense any more.
"I don't want to break up," he found himself shouting at her. She looked taken aback. "I- I don't want that." He moved his hand awkwardly through his hair. He thought about dragons and Romania and punching Harry and fucking Hermione.
He thought about days, sitting alone in the Burrow and nights filled with long emptiness. He thought about marrying Hermione and dancing with her under the lights at the Burrow. He thought about staring at her and seeing Harry's hands all over her.
"I don't want this either," he whispered. "This bullshit between us. I fucked up and, whether you meant it or not, you bloody punished me."
She stared at him incredulously. "So, that's it then? You're just...done?"
He groaned. "I don't bloody want that! But, even with you hurting yourself, and believe me, I am thanking Merlin that you are okay, coming back was too soon. I love you but I still need time to figure this out." He looked into her eyes, because he owed her that. "I'm moving out."
Time stopped and Ron felt sick, like a thousand newts were clawing at his insides. He hadn't meant for it to sound so final. Hermione looked about as heartbroken as he felt, but as soon as he had said it, it felt right.
Hermione's hand flew to her mouth to stifle cries, Ron assumed. He knew the way she cried, the way she grieved.
"I'm going to move out," Ron started, fearing his voice would break. "I'll go back home, with Mum and Dad. Until we can sort this bullshit out."
And there it was. A small glimmer of hope, like a snitch gloating along the horizon. He knew Hermione caught it, because despite her hunched appearance and desperate expressions, she nodded softly.
"We can get some help," she whispered and sat back onto the sofa, curling her legs underneath her. "I've been reading. I mean, that is if you still want..." she paused, "us. I mean, I guess you said that you still love me and I love you and I want to fix this."
She looked directly at him. "Please let us fix this."
It was then Ron noticed that, despite his tough Auror reputation, tears were leaking out of his eyes too. He lowered himself onto the sofa and his hand slipped perfectly into Hermione's. "I want to fix this."
There was a silence for a solid five minutes, neither wanting to move and start the inevitable. He wondered if Hermione would rearrange the flat in his absence or whether he truly would ever return here.
"Are we going to be okay?"
She finally raised her head and looked at him, hope in her eyes. "We're going to try," he confirmed. And he actually meant it. He loved her with every fibre of his being. Without her, there was nothing.
"And Harry?" she asked hesitantly, not looking away. Ron wondered when she would bring him up. Hermione's betrayal had stung and despite her confession of equal guilt, part of him was still more than happy to heap the blame on him.
Harry effing Potter. The Boy Who Shagged. Could Ron forgive him? He had forgiven Hermione readily enough. If it were Harry who'd had the accident, would Ron have raced back and pushed him along a little? He wasn't so sure. He, Harry and Hermione had faced the world together. Perhaps one day they could piece themselves back together.
But for now, Ron could only be honest.
A/N 2: This story endured several rewrites and only a few sentences from the original ending made it to this chapter. To me, this was the ending I needed and I hope I didn't disappoint any readers. Hermione and Harry slept together because, in the middle of a war, they sought comfort within each other. They decided to not tell Ron because of the perceived fear that he would leave them again. Sometimes we forget the repercussions of what JK set out. They were children fighting a war.
Imagine somebody you loved left you in the middle of a war. Even when reunited, you would always have that niggling suspicion that when things got tough, wouldn't it be possible they left you again? I left the story with the thought of Harry because, despite everything, our story begins with a boy under the stairs. His terrible decisions always resonated with his friends and while therapy and time could heal a relationship, can the same be said for a friendship as true as theirs?